Hundreds of professionals working to keeping children safe from abuse and neglect met Monday and Tuesday at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in downtown Seattle to take part in a hands-on training and hear about the latest child welfare research.
The 16th annual Children's Justice Conference, one of the largest child welfare training events in the nation, brought leading researchers and advocates to Seattle from across the country to attend workshops and seminars and share their knowledge.
Child welfare experts from Portland, Ore., to Portland, Maine, gathered to discuss and coach other professionals on new developments in social services, justice and caring for children.
The two-day conference offered seminars and workshops such as: "Understanding the Roles of CPS and Law Enforcement"; "Engaging Fathers…How to Reach Out to and Establish a Working Relationship with Men Who May be Avoidant, Challenging or Hostile"; and "Physical Abuse, Discipline and Culture: Working with Diverse Families." The discussions ranged from the problems of children surrounded by alcohol and drug abuse, to sexual abuse, homeless teens, gangs, to how to strengthen and protect children and families. Key issues were how state agencies respond to child abuse and neglect; and the disproportionate numbers of children of color who end up in foster care.
"We've trying to answer the question of how disproportionality comes about and the question of why it comes about," said Fred H. Wulczyn, Ph.D., from the Center for Foster Care and Adoption at the University of Chicago. "It's an issue that people care about and are thinking about already so it's an important issue to discuss and one that affects the lives of children and families of color."
In 2006, according to the U.S Department of Heath and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, 905,000 American children were found to be victims of abuse or neglect. About 1,530 children died from abuse or neglect. One out of every 50 infants was abused or neglected.
Widespread alcohol and drug abuse among parents is one of the causes of the problem. Three-quarters of parents of children in foster care need substance abuse treatment, experts estimate, yet only one-third receive it.
Actor, author and child welfare advocate Victoria Rowell spoke on Monday. Rowell, who herself was raised in foster care, won the NAACP Outstanding Debut Author Award for "The Women Who Raised Me" an account of her childhood and her many foster mothers. The national spokesperson for the leading child welfare nonprofit, Casey Family Services, Rowell is best known for her roles in "The Cosby Show" and "The Young and the Restless."
Despite starting out with the disadvantage of losing her biological family, Rowell's is a success story. She has won 11 NAACP Image Awards, and in 1990 she founded The Rowell Foster Children's Positive Plan to help give foster children access to higher education, fine arts programs, cultural enrichment and health care. The nonprofit also supports foster families.
Researcher and author Fred Wulczyn spoke during Tuesday afternoon's final session on "Poverty, Placement, and Racial Disparities in the Foster Care System." He talked about how children arrive in the system and how they leave it.
In Chicago's inner city, Wulczyn said, researchers are looking at what is behind the disproportionate rates of African American children foster care.
Poverty is connected to the demand for child welfare services of all kind, he said. That includes prevention, protection and foster care services. During the 1990s poverty rates among children dropped dramatically, but the foster care caseload continued to rise.
"When we think about kids in foster care, we will be left with more of the kids left behind because they leave at a slower rate, all this is introduces us to the mechanics of population dynamics that is at the root of disproportionality."
Lack of needed services to struggling families is a key reason for continuing problems, Wulczyn suggested. "We're looking at the issues of poverty because it has a direct relationship to how likely it is that kids are coming into the system."
The 16th Annual Children's Justice Conference was sponsored by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, Children's Administration and the Children's Justice on Interdisciplinary Task Force.